How to Tell if Your Speaking is Effective

Most of the time people ask me how to become a good, great or awesome speaker. But you can be a technically excellent speaker and still be ineffective. So what's the difference?

The difference is that effective speaking has to result in some change. It could be that this change is inside the heads of the audience -- maybe the goal was to raise awareness of something. Sometimes the goal is to change the behavior of people, maybe convincing them to buy a new product, adopt a new technology or simply do something in a new way.

How can you tell if your speaking is effective? In real world speaking situations sometimes the change is very obvious and no special metrics are needed. If you are trying to convince your colleagues to use less email and you notice a clear change in the email volume after the meeting you have probably been effective. Or if you are trying to convince the management of your company to support a new project and they agree just after your presentation then your speaking was certainly effective.

But how do you measure effectiveness while you are still learning to become an effective speaker and how do you measure the effectiveness of presentations you are still developing? One very simple method I have used in speaking workshops is to ask someone in the audience to explain to the speaker the main points of the speech they have just heard. Very often the first time you try this the result will be disappointing, but this is an essential step in developing more powerful speaking skills. You need to understand that it is more difficult than most people expect to communicate messages and you need to learn how to test ideas so that you can refine them.

Another method that is even more helpful is to try your speech or presentation on a test audience -- this could be fellow speaking students in a workshop, a group of colleagues or members of some professional group you belong to.  After the test run give everyone in the audience a piece of paper and ask them to write in bullet points the key messages that they can recall. 

In most cases the results of these tests will be disappointing, but they help to identify weaknesses in the content and the delivery. If people are missing important points these need to be emphasized more, and if people are misunderstanding key points they need to be explained in a different way. Ideally you should repeat the test with a revised version of the talk but with a new test listener or audience. After the first revision you will already notice an improvement. With every cycle of testing the speech will usually get better. It will never be perfect but you should at least be able to ensure that everyone in the audience knows what your main message was supposed to be.

This assumes that you know yourself what the main message was supposed to be. One of the simplest ways to make speaking more effective is to start by defining a very clear idea of what this main message is supposed to be. To deliver an effective speech or presentation it is not enough to master the techniques of delivery, you also need to define and structure the content effectively. A clearly defined and structured speech might take more time to design, but it is easier to learn, easier to deliver and much more effective.

But to achieve any kind of change the speech or presentation itself is only part of the story. Effective influencing begins long before a formal presentation of your message and involves lobbying all of the stakeholders, evangelizing your ideas, identifying problems and addressing them, but all of this is something for another post. 

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about effective speaking, influencing and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan by email at or by phone at 0046 730 894 475.


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